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The 2010 Millenium Awards (22/1/2011)
A flow of good news
Hubris - William T. Ayton, 2008
(*) A prominent anti-vaccination liar once refused to post comments about something I had written for Yahoo!7 on that site because it didn't get enough traffic to justify him making the effort. Instead he published his reply on his own site where it could get wider exposure. "Hubris" is the word I'm looking for, I believe.
Then there's Wakefield (22/1/2011)
Hopefully I have written the last thing I ever have to write about the dreadful Dr Andrew Wakefield. My next Naked Skeptic column for Australasian Science magazine sets out the history of Wakefield's deception over the years. It won't be on the newsstands for a couple of weeks but you can get a sneak preview here. The magazine will, as usual, contain much more than just my scribbling so I recommend that you either nag your newsagent to have it on sale (if you live in Australia) or, better still, subscribe through the magazine web site. It is the best popular science magazine in the country and is written by experts for a non-expert audience.
In more Dr Wakefield news, the British Medical Journal has now published all three parts of their report into his actions.
And do you think the attacks on journalist Brian Deer have subsided? Of course not - he exposed the sordid details of Wakefield's deception and must be vilified at every opportunity. Here is our old friend Meryl Dorey from the Australian Vaccination Network expressing an opinion. (I've left the question about blood type and eugenics there to show that crazy ideas about vaccination are not confined to the movement's leaders.)
"Lying dog of a journalist", hey? The UK has some of the most draconian and bankrupting defamation laws in the world, so why hasn't Dr Wakefield sued Brian Deer for being a lying dog? Well, he tried before and the case was thrown out of court because Wakefield's lawyers couldn't convince the court that they were doing anything except trying to hide what Wakefield had done and burden Deer with crippling legal bills. I suspect, however, that Deer might have more success if he decided to ask an Australian court to rule on the defamatory nature of the words "lying dog of a journalist".
Power Balance - the final episode? (22/1/2011)
One day we might see the last of the ridiculous Power Balance magic rubber bands. They have been put out of business in Australia and now someone has initiated a class action against the fraud in the District Court in California, alleging unfair business practices and false advertising. You can see the court filing here.
The unfortunate part is that scams like this are like toadstools after rain. When you think you've seen the last one, more just pop up from the festering mass hidden underground. This wasn't the first attempt to extract money from the wallets of the gullible and it won't be the last.
What was particularly annoying about this scam was how transparent it was. I might be an exception because I've been looking at this sort of stuff for a long time, but even so the smell of fraud and nonsense should be detectable by anyone applying the principle of "If it looks too good to be true it probably is". Celebrity endorsement of the scam didn't help, but again a useful heuristic is to assume that any prominent sportsperson or entertainment personality used in advertisements is being paid to be there, although the cheapness of these bands was such that handing them out to members of sporting teams and hoping that they would wear them on the field without payment was a reasonable advertising approach.
Note: Anyone wanting to pay me large amounts of money to endorse their products in advertisements needs to be fully aware of two facts about me - a) my bank account details for depositing the money (or my address for delivery of cash in brown paper bags) and b) I like a week's notice to rearrange my diary for the shoot. (I once did a book promotion interview on a television program famous for its advertisements of fad diets, magnetic mattress covers and other such nonsenses. I was asked why I would allow myself to be associated with such frippery and the answer was simple: "Several million viewers and a few thousand extra books sold".)
It's 10:23 time again
It's on again. Next Sunday, February 6, I will be joining a group of people who will attempt self-harm by the consumption of large doses of homeopathic "medicines". It is part of the 10:23 campaign to demonstrate to the public the fraud and uselessness of homeopathy, or, as the slogan says: "Homeopathy: There's nothing in it".
The 10:23 campaign started in the UK, but I will be doing it in Sydney. If you want to join in the fun we will be meeting at the Choo Choo Cafe in the Botanic Gardens at about 9:30 am. As I have diabetes it is considered undesirable for me to consume too many sugar pills. I will instead be giving a demonstration of the process that homeopaths claim to use to make pillules. I use the word "claim" because they don't actually do what I will doing, which will be to follow the principles of making a homeopathic pillule. They simply take a few small sweets (retail cost 0.15 cents each), put them in a bottle, write whatever they feel like on the label, and sell them for 15 cents each. Nice crime if you can get it.
Taking large doses of homeopathy to demonstrate its ineffectiveness is nothing new, and I have been doing it for years as part of my stage presentations about quackery. A few years back a homeopath challenged me to test the effects of magic 200C belladonna pillules. Here is the result.
The name 10:23 was chosen to remind people of Avogadro's Number, which is 10 raised to the power of 23. In layman's terms related to homeopathy this means that any homeopathic preparation with a "potency" of more than 12C or 24X is almost certain to contain no molecules of active ingredient. Put another way, your 20C homeopathic preparation that you are taking on the advice of someone who supposedly knows what they are talking about has nothing in it except water (or maybe alcohol) or lactose (if it is a tablet). Put in yet another way, homeopathy is not just medical fraud, it is financial fraud as well. You are having your money stolen.
I stopped at a roadside cafe for a coffee and a slice of apple crumble. There was a t-shirt hanging on a coathanger on the wall next to my table. I used to drive cars in rallies around Port Macquarie. They would not sell me the shirt.
(It's the Full Throttle Diner, 2430 Great Western Highway, Hartley, NSW 2790. It has just recently opened and if you are in the area they would like your business. The coffee and service are excellent. As Bobby Troup would say, if you ever plan to motor west, stop at Hartley for a coffee and a rest.)
Sadly, the Full Throttle Diner is no more. There is just a locked and empty building which I drive past regularly. PB January 2017.
I incur displeasure (29/1/2011)
Apparently I didn't react quickly enough to a complaint made in 2003.
From: "Dr. John A. Allocca"
Subject: my listing
Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2011 11:36:17 -0500
You have been damaging my career and business since 2003. It was nice of you to post my comments. But, I'm not guilty of medical fraud. If you do a search for John Allocca, ragbags is the fourth line. When people see that, they don't go any further.
Your site has been listed here since September 1999. A Google search shows the Millenium Project page about you at position number eight, and two of the pages ahead of it are yours (at positions one and two). As your original complaint was in 2003 and you are still in business either you have a very resilient business or I haven't been doing any damage.
Your comment that I appear to be a medical doctor at first, is your own bias. My title is medical research scientist. My biography specifies all of my degrees.
You can call yourself whatever you like, but when giving medical advice, which you do, use of the prefix "Dr" suggests a degree in medicine. You do not appear to have a medical degree, so I am correct in saying that you present as a medical doctor but are not one.
Your comment about a patent not proving anything is not correct. Maybe in Australia. But, in the US I had to submit clinic observations (small study) to the patent office.
So how about clearing my name. Review www.allocca.com and if you have any questions about what I'm doing, please email me. Give me the opportunity to clear my name. firstname.lastname@example.org.
While ever your site suggests that there might be some validity to something as idiotic as ear acupuncture I think that all my questions have been answered.
John A. Allocca, D.Sc., Ph.D.
Medical Research Scientist
Allocca Biotechnology, LLC
On the way in on the train going to the first social events of TAM Australia my friend Darryl found the tune to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah running through his mind. A metaphorical light bulb went on over his shaggy head and he whipped out his notebook and wrote some new lyrics to show his respect for a certain anti-vaccination campaigner. I had the honour of reciting the words at the Skepticator Open Mic Night event (Darryl was feeling shy on the night) and Darryl has kindly allowed me to reproduce the words here. As everything produced by Darryl has stickers on it saying "Contains coarse language", "Parental Guidance Recommended" and so forth, the song will not be on the front page but you can read the lyrics here.
Thank you to my friend Paul Gallagher for this.
Those wacky anti-vaccinators (29/1/2011)
It seems that a week can't go by without some anti-vaccination liar trying to raise the bar for idiocy and vileness. Here is this week's effort, from the Australian Vaccination Network's Facebook page. (I cite this outfit a lot, mainly because they make such an effort to be disgusting. There is a limit to how many of these filthy organisations I can pay attention to at any one time, but another named VINE (from New Zealand) is bubbling towards the surface of the swamp.)
Faced with facts, attack the person. That is the only way they can defend their indefensible attitude towards the health of children. In other posts the doctor was abused for not having a licence (the same attack has been used for years against Dr Stephen Barrett who has no licence for the same reason - once he ceased to practise he didn't need a license and its concomitant professional insurance). You can see Dr Tuteur's article here.
Another thing that came up this week was a repeat of the lie that vaccines are somehow related to Shaken Baby Syndrome and are in fact the cause of the injuries seen in the children. I find it difficult to be polite to people who make this claim. A few years ago a killer named Alan Yurko was adopted by the anti-vaccination community as an example of someone unjustly imprisoned because the ten-week-old baby he beat to death was really killed by a vaccine. I want you to read the following comment about the baby's condition:
Post-Mortem Findings (Performed by the medical examiner for Orange and Osceola Counties):
Findings included minor contusions of both temporal areas of the head and a small bruise of the right lower eyelid. The brain was grossly edematous, (which may have been the precipitating factor of the apnea preceding hospital admission). There were large, fresh subdural hemorrhages, right and left hemispheres, predominantly right; also hemorrhages at the base of the brain and over some areas of the spinal cord. The brain was grossly edematous. There was a small focus of bleeding in the right eye (bleeding absent in the left eye). In addition there were old, healing fractures in the 5th, 6th 7th nd 10th ribs, all posterior on the left. The lungs were mildly hemorrhagic and were congested with scattered inflammatory cells, indicating an interstitial pneumonitis. (The heart, liver, pancreas, small intestines, gall bladder, and spleen had been surgically harvested before death for organ donations).
Based on these findings, it was the medical examiner's conclusion that the baby had died from the shaken baby syndrome.
You might wonder how anybody could read this and not be outraged at the way the child had been treated. Pay particular attention to the four healing broken ribs, with the breaks just where the fingers of a right-handed person would be pressing while the child was being shaken, and remember that the child was only ten weeks old. The assault that killed him wasn't the first.
What might surprise you is the words quoted above were taken from a paper written by two medical doctors as a defence of the killer and as support for the ridiculous idea that vaccines had caused the child's death. That's right - fully qualified medical doctors with licences to practise. What other conclusion could you draw than that these doctors were either insane or so lacking in morality that they would say or do anything to discredit vaccination. Or both. And people still ask me why I have nothing but contempt for vaccination opponents. What other attitude is it possible for anyone who is sane to take?